Those who claim that Christians today should be worshipping together on Saturday, instead of Sunday, often point to Paul going to the synagogue on the Sabbath. They say that Paul was “keeping the Sabbath.”
While there are several passages that say Paul went to the synagogue, wherever he was, on the Sabbath it is important to notice WHY Paul was going to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Was Paul going to the synagogue on the Sabbath to engage in Christian worship or was it for another reason?
Remember, the question is about when CHRISTIANS are supposed to assemble for their corporate worship to God. Is it on Saturday – i.e. the Sabbath – or on Sunday, the first day of the week?
So, if Paul going to the synagogue on Saturday is an example that the New Testament church is supposed to follow today for their worship assembly then that means he must have been going to the synagogues to engage in Christian worship. Is that what he was doing? Let’s look at the examples and see what the Bible says.
In Acts 13, Paul and his party went to the Antioch Pisidia synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 13:12). Were they assembled with New Testament Christians for the worship of the New Testament church on the Sabbath day? No! Paul spoke to the “men of Israel” (i.e. Jews) that were assembled there for Jewish worship on the Sabbath (Acts 13:16).
On the next Sabbath they arranged for Paul to preach again and a great multitude came to hear him preach the word of God (Acts 13:44). Again, this was not the assembly of the New Testament church on the Sabbath but a “Gospel Meeting,” so to speak, where the word of God was being preached to those eager to hear it.
The purpose for Paul being at the synagogue on the Sabbath is important to the discussion of what day Christians are supposed to assemble for worship. If he was there for the assembled worship of the church then there would be a strong case for Christians to keep the Sabbath. However, if he was there to convert Jews and Gentiles to Christianity then that is not an example of the assembled worship of the New Testament church. It is an example of evangelistic outreach.
When Paul was in Philippi, where there was no synagogue, it says that on the Sabbath they went out to the riverside where prayer was customarily made (Acts 16:13). Again, is this an example of Paul assembling with the New Testament church on the Sabbath for the worship of the church? No! It was typical for the Jews to assemble by a body of water for their Sabbath day assembly in a place where there was no synagogue.
According to Jewish tradition, there had to be at least 10 Jewish males to establish a synagogue. Just like the previous example, this is an example of Paul going to the Jews first to share the gospel with them (cf. Rom. 1:16; 9:3-5; 10:1-4).
He did not go out to the river on the Sabbath to assemble with the church to worship in the name of Jesus Christ. He went out there to convert Jews to Christ (Acts 16:14-16). Paul did not “keep the Sabbath” as the day of New Testament worship.
In Acts 18:4, it says that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath.” Paul went to the synagogue on the Sabbath to preach the gospel to those who assembled there, not to worship with them.
When it says he was reasoning with “Jews and Gentiles,” these people were not even Christians. How could Paul have been assembling with non-Christians on the Sabbath for the purpose of worshipping in the Christian assembly? Answer, he wasn’t!
It is blatantly dishonest for someone to claim that Paul going to the synagogue on the Sabbath means that Christians today are supposed to be assembling for worship on the Sabbath. What is really sad is that this is how most people use the Bible. They make up their mind about what they want to believe and then go to the Bible to justify what they already believe.
Sabbatarians aren’t the only ones guilty of this kind of biblical dishonesty. We are not supposed to go to the Bible to justify what we already believe.
We are supposed to go to the Bible to be taught by God first. We are supposed to let the Bible make up our mind on any given issue, not try to make the Bible fit with what we want to believe.
If you have questions or comments please don’t hesitate to share them with me. My commitment to you is that we will discuss your questions and comments just from the Bible.
I promise to give you just what the Bible says about your questions. You ask the questions and we’ll let the Bible give the answers. May God bless you in the study of His word.
Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or [email protected]